…Into the Desert


Remember the Normandy scene from Saving Private Ryan when the gates on the US transport ships were lowered and chaos erupted in an instant? Sometimes reality comes crashing in and people find themselves in the midst of an incredible trial with no warning or preparation.

Rookies in the NFL often talk about how much faster the game is compared to college. For those who make it and become a star, there is this magical moment – if you are an avid fan you can almost tell when it happens – when the game suddenly slows down. An event which yesterday, or even five minutes ago, was a blur of insanity and pain suddenly falls out of warp speed and operates in normal time or perhaps even slow motion. With the exception of freshman phenoms like LT or Adrian Peterson, everyone experiences this acclimation process – some go through it quickly and with ease while for others the transition is painstakingly slow, or never completes at all.

When I was in 6th grade my math class was held in the room where 8th grade Algebra met during the previous hour. I remember one day toward the end of the year I walked in and the Algebra teacher’s class notes were still up on the chalk board…yes we had chalk boards, with real chalk.

I looked at those unholy scribbles (letters or numbers people, choose one!) and knew that I would never comprehend that subject. There was no way that those ridiculous equations actually meant anything intelligible.

The next year I took pre-Algebra and the following year there I was…and it was easy! By easy, I of course mean that I hated it and never really got most of it, but I was able to pass my tests and move on. Yet looking ahead at the material, prior to being prepared it had seemed impossible.

Sometimes it is precisely the lack of preparation that makes a feat accomplishable. There have been times when I was hunting or camping that I came upon a difficult terrain at night. Not having a clue at all what I was trying to get over, across or through, I just trudged ahead and made it. When I returned in the light of day I could plainly see that there was no possible way to get through…I certainly wasn’t going to try to return the way I came, how could I? Yet the night before, not realizing it was impossible, I’d managed to cross with only minor difficulties (which suggests that perhaps we’re capable of much more than we realize).

When I think about the trials we face, these metaphors are somewhat helpful. In my previous post I talked about the difficulty of leaving the comfort of home for the wilderness only to turn around and find yourself leaving the comfort of the wilderness for the desert…so what’s next?

Sometimes we are blessed to go through the wilderness before the desert because we have an opportunity to begin getting acclimated or prepared rather than being thrown straight into chaos. The misery of Texas football two-a-days was somewhat less horrible for me and some others in our small town because we spent our summers in the hayfield instead of the air-conditioning. Those who went straight from (as our coaches would say) cartoons and Kool-Aid to 100 degrees and nearly 100% humidity had it pretty rough for the first couple weeks.

So I bless God for our time in the wilderness – it prepared us for the desert.

I mentioned before that when you enter the desert you have two basic choices for survival. The first is to find an oasis, which represents a place of rest and refreshment in the midst of the barren terrain. A blog shared with friends; a coffee shop where the barista knows your drink order; a new friend who enjoys hot wings and will allow discussion of the Dallas Cowboys in the midst of Black and Gold country…any of these can be an oasis.

Secondly, if there is no oasis, or if you just don’t know where to look, or even if you have managed to find one, you may need to discover or be discovered by Bedouins. Bedouins are native to the desert, they’ve learned to make their home in an environment that seems uninhabitable to outsiders…and if they don’t kill you, they can mean salvation! Your desert may come from moving into a new geographical location or it can be a purely spiritual desert, right at home. Either way, you will be blessed if you find people who understand this foreign terrain.

Locals who know the great places to eat, the great places to fish and the great places to launch your kayak that is currently sitting unused in the garage; people who can point out the things they love about their home turf can help you cultivate an appreciation for the landscape.

If your desert is spiritual it may be just as difficult to find your Bedouins. Even though you may be surrounded by people you’ve known for years, you may have no idea who’s been in the spiritual desert where you find yourself pitching your tent. But, trust me, they’re there. You just have to stay alert.

But there is another option besides dying in the desert that I wasn’t even thinking about until I read an article in Discipleship Journal – finding a hermitage or monastery. I’ll say more about that, and elaborate on another possible reason for desert/wilderness experiences in my next post.

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Posted on May 2, 2008, in desert, faith, hope, metaphors, spiritual formation, wilderness. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What’s a chalkboard?

    Seriously, I am enjoying your unpacking of these metaphors. Right about now, I’m looking to move from my desert of a weekend to the nearest mountain top. If that doesn’t happen, I’m so gonna stalk me some Bedouins, and hang out with them.

  2. Sorry the weekend was deserty – warning, stalking suburban Bedouins can be dangerous…they are not afraid to file a restraining order!

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